I can smell something burning. The smoke-flavoured air wafts through my window providing a pungent reminder that Summer is on the way.
I grew up around campfires, they never worried me. I learnt how to build a fire and how to safely put one out. Fire safety was part of my upbringing. The smell of a campfire is soothing, it speaks of an escape from the world and an uncommon sense of calm.
It wasn’t long before that changed. In 1994, there were a series of very bad bush fires around Sydney. We were living in Lane Cove and were evacuated after some concern that the fire burning on the next ridge over could jump the valley. By 2001 we had moved to East Ryde. Another bad year for bush fires, we were almost evacuated because there were fires on all sides of our suburb. There’s only one road in and out so panic was pretty high. I remember walking home after being at school late and the sky was dark but lit up orange from all the fire. And again in East Ryde, last summer there was a fire the next street over from my parents place. Those big orange helicopters flew overhead dropping water onto it, trying to keep it away from houses.
But even all this is not my worst encounter with a bush fire.
When I was 11, my Mum, my brother, and one of his friends were camping on a property in Kangaroo Valley. The property ran from the road, down a big hill to the river. No real roads, just a few tracks to get in and out. You had to park at the top and walk in with all your stuff. About halfway down the hill was an old tin shed. It was open at the front looking down towards the river. There was a fireplace inside. One evening we had lit the fire (an essential part of camping) and were hanging out inside the shed. Someone heard something and peeked around the side of the shed to see if they could see anything, and we saw a bush fire racing down the hill towards us. Mum went into action yelling at us to get our shoes on quick smart and follow her. We left everything and ran. Making it around the fire, we got to the car and drove to a neighbours property to ring the fire brigade (there were no mobile phones in 1995). We basically outran a bush fire. The firemen came and put it out. They really did rescue us.
Bush fires make me anxious. Perhaps understandably, but anxious nonetheless. The smell seeps into my nose while I sleep, causing me to have frightful dreams about getting caught in a fire. The smell remind me of the fear of that night when I was 11. The smell reminds me of those who have been caught in bush fires and not been able to outrun them.
The Bible says,
The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deut 4:24.
This verse has always been a bit intimidating for me. I have seen consuming fire, and it is scary.
One thing you learn about fires when you grow up spending time in the bush in Australia is that once a fire has burnt a patch of bush, it will not go back there. In other words, the safest place to be in a bush fire is where the fire has already been.
The same is true for God. He is a jealous God, and his anger is something to be feared. But it has been expended on the cross – Jesus willingly suffered the anger of God. For us that means that the safest, and really the only, place to hide from God’s anger is in the cross of Jesus Christ. Of an end to God’s anger for those who are found in Him, Jesus says,
“It is finished.” John 19:30.
And so it is.